June 28, 2006

RALEIGH – North Carolina should stop making it easy for illegal immigrants to get state driver’s licenses. That’s the main recommendation in a new Spotlight report from the John Locke Foundation.

“The legislature has made North Carolina a haven for illegal immigrants seeking licenses,” said Daren Bakst, JLF Legal and Regulatory Policy Analyst. “The license is the key that unlocks many of the benefits of American life, and without the key, there might be less incentive to be here illegally.”

North Carolina makes it easy for illegal immigrants to get licenses because it accepts an identification number that’s used almost exclusively by illegals, Bakst said. “This policy is especially problematic since there is no requirement that individuals prove lawful status in the country.”

Bakst examined 2001 state legislation that allowed people to use the federal Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) to secure a driver’s license. The federal government developed the ITIN for people who cannot get a Social Security Number. The ITIN is designed solely for tax purposes.

North Carolina accepts 75,000 to 100,000 ITINs each year, according to estimates from the N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles. “North Carolina is one of only nine states that accept the ITIN in lieu of the Social Security Number,” Bakst said.

The state auditor and the Internal Revenue Service have cautioned against using the ITIN for driver’s license purposes, Bakst said. “The auditor’s office has warned that most states have found that the ITIN card is easy to reproduce illegally.”

North Carolina’s lax driver’s license requirements make the state a “magnet” for illegal immigrants, Bakst said. “Individuals should not be rewarded for being in the country illegally, nor should they – for the most part – receive all the benefits of being an American.”

The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, prompted governments across the nation to step up security requirements linked to driver’s licenses and other government documents. North Carolina legislators moved in the opposite direction, Bakst said.

“Before 9/11, North Carolina did not accept ITINs,” he said. “Ten days later, on September 21, 2001, the legislature ratified an appropriations bill that deleted a rule requiring a Social Security Number for all driver’s license applicants.”

In place of the Social Security Number, lawmakers allowed applicants to provide an ITIN. “In all fairness, the language was part of a much larger appropriations bill, and some legislators may not have known it existed,” Bakst said. “But since that time, nothing has been done to repeal the acceptance of ITINs or require proof of legal status.”

Easy access to North Carolina driver’s licenses leads to “clear national security risks,” Bakst said. “Driving is freedom of movement,” he said. “In the context of terrorism, freedom and ease of movement are critical. There is no government monitoring of one’s movement. An illegal immigrant with nefarious objectives can freely move across the entire country under the radar screen.”

The driver’s license can also help illegal immigrants board airplanes, set up checking accounts, cash checks, transfer money, and enter government buildings.

The issue might be moot in two years, Bakst said. A federal law called the REAL ID Act will require states to strengthen driver’s license requirements by May 2008. The federal government will not recognize licenses from non-complying states.

“We should not necessarily assume North Carolina will comply, but the cost seems too great to ignore – even for supporters of licenses for illegal immigrants,” Bakst said. “North Carolina clearly is issuing driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. The state needs to take action now to stop this embarrassing practice.”

Daren Bakst’s Spotlight report, “Illegal Immigrants and Driving: N.C. Legislature Should Stop Helping Illegal Immigrants Obtain Licenses,” is available at the John Locke Foundation’s web site. For more information, please contact Daren Bakst at (919) 828-3876 or [email protected]. To arrange an interview, contact JLF communications director Mitch Kokai at (919) 306-8736 or [email protected].